Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

25 April, 2010

Feedback thread
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 2:30 PM

I’m going to steal a page from Tobold’s “Open Sunday” threads. Probably won’t be a weekly feature, though.

Give your feedback and ask your questions and I’ll do what I can to respond.

I’ve usually done a feedback thread once a year. Response is usually a bit reserved. But, I figured I’d alter the format slightly based on what has worked on other sites.

So, suggest topics for me to cover. Ask questions for me to answer. Whatever strikes your fancy and isn’t too obnoxious. ;)







14 Comments »

  1. Oooh, awesome :)

    Here’s an incredibly open-ended and vague question for you:

    What do you think it is about the MMORPG genre that attracts players to it?

    Comment by We Fly Spitfires — 25 April, 2010 @ 3:38 PM

  2. One of the most common criticisms of newer MMOs seems to be “heavily instanced”. I’m not sure where the heavily line is drawn, or even if there is a general consensus on it, but the impression given in these comments is that instancing is bad.

    Having only started my gaming with the release of WoW’s Burning Crusade, I never experienced the good ‘ol days of non-instanced dungeons, but my thinking on the matter is that instancing is a good thing for me as a player. Not having to take a number or stand in line to kill a dungeon boss, not watching 100 other heroes on the same exact “only you can help us” mission your party is on, maybe even controlling lag in busy areas (would Shattrath or Dalaran have had near as many lag-related issues if they had population control a la GuildWars?). Storytelling seems easier with instancing as well (phasing works, too, but runs into problems when people in a party are in different phases).

    From a developer/design perspective, what is your take on instancing? Should it be a goal to reduce or remove it? And is it even something that a significant number of players dislike? What are the alternatives when you want to make a good player experience and tell a story in the game?

    Comment by Tanek — 25 April, 2010 @ 4:07 PM

  3. I figure the “games are art” business might’ve been beaten to death elsewhere, but I thought I’d ask:

    What characteristic unique to video games can be described as “artistic”? Is there something more besides the synthesis of other elements (visual elements, music, narrative)?

    Comment by Sok — 25 April, 2010 @ 5:14 PM

  4. We Fly Spitfires wrote:
    What do you think it is about the MMORPG genre that attracts players to it?

    Initially I think it was the novelty of the experience. Being able to play an RPG with others. For some people, it was a way to expand the single-player games (like Ultima) they loved. For others, it was a way to recapture pen-and-paper games in a way that didn’t require university-allowed levels of free-time.

    Now I think it’s more about the social aspects. “Social media” is yet another expression of what we’ve seen for years: people like connecting with friends. MMOs were the video game way of doing so. Video games are nothing new and increasingly mainstream.

    Tanek wrote:
    From a developer/design perspective, what is your take on instancing?

    Instancing is another tool in the design toolbox. It can be used well or poorly in many situations. I don’t think it’s something that needs to be emphasized or shunned for the sake of emphasizing or shunning it.

    I was taking a look at instancing for my current job a little while ago, and I realized something interesting: instancing in an MMO has primarily been used for group content. Consider that all the instances in WoW, for example, are for group content. The danger of having soloers in instances is that they won’t make social connections that will keep them interested in the game in the long term. As much as some people might not like “forced socialization”, it’s still one of the best ways to get people invested into the game. So, there definitely are limitations to how you should use instancing.

    I think that DDO is an interesting case where instancing works pretty well for the game for story reasons: I think it’d be really hard to have the well-crafted instances if masses of people were all running through an “open” dungeon. But, I think this might have been part of the problem holding DDO back for a while.

    Sok wrote:
    I figure the “games are art” business might’ve been beaten to death elsewhere…

    Never let that stop you from asking questions, though. :)

    What characteristic unique to video games can be described as “artistic”?

    I think the primary thing that separates games from other media is interactivity. So, any intrinsic artistic merit that doesn’t come from a synthesis has to focus on that. This is why I’ve even bothered to discuss Roger Ebert’s latest outburst about games not being art: his main point against games as art, that the player is an active participant in the story, goes directly against this. However, I think Ebert is wrong because good art can be collaborative, even if one of the collaborators is the audience. Of course, then the audience becomes partially responsible for the quality of the work. That’s why I don’t think we can completely abdicate our creative responsibilities to the audience, as some of the champions of “user-created content” seemed to advocate back in the day.

    So, I think that’s where video games are going to shine. I think that “interactive storytelling” really is in its infancy. We’ve seen previous few examples of this type of art in the past; the dominant example I’ve seen has been oral tradition storytelling. It’s been a while since we’ve had a lot of oral storytelling, so it’s taking games a while to really find a way to flourish. We’ve also had a lot of stumbling blocks in our way, such as the insistence that all games must be “fun”, which limits our selection of topics, at least for commercial works.

    I’d highly recommend checking out Brenda Brathwaite’s talk on her game Train on the GDC vault. This may not be proof positive that games are art, but it certainly shows that we can take steps in that direction.

    Comment by Psychochild — 25 April, 2010 @ 6:28 PM

  5. Are there any games or game mechanics that you really wish you had designed? And if so, why?

    Comment by Spinks — 25 April, 2010 @ 10:36 PM

  6. Spinks wrote:
    Are there any games or game mechanics that you really wish you had designed? And if so, why?

    Not particularly. Not because I don’t like designing neat new mechanics, but because I’m not (yet?) in the position to make them become well-known. I’ve had a great idea for a game mechanic, but it’s essentially been languishing in obscurity because I just haven’t had a game to put it into. I think if I had developed talent trees instead of Blizzard, I fear we’d still be stuck with simply upgrading spells like in old EQ1.

    Stabs wrote:
    What is the advantage for gamers of a games company being independent?

    Go read Wolfshead’s most recent comment here. The first line goes, “When I worked as a game designer in the industry there was no way I or any of the other designers had the time, authority and luxury to even contemplate issues like [morality].”

    Why can I make a blog post about moral obligations in game design? Because I’m independent. Maybe you might not agree with my moral reasoning, but I’d hope people would at least appreciate the fact that someone is at least thinking about it.

    As Wolfshead goes on to say, “Bottom line: as long as money is involved, there’s very little chance of the video game industry even remotely having the capacity and intention of contemplating something abstract like their moral obligations.” I’d edit that slightly: as long as money is the primary motivation for game development, there is little chance of the industry contemplating something abstract like moral obligations. As soon as you owe money to someone else, it becomes much harder to consider deeper issues like that.

    Now extend this into other areas, like being able to chasing after a fun niche instead of only caring about the lowest common denominator audience, and I think the answers become self-evident.

    Thought-provoking questions. :) Keep it up!

    Comment by Psychochild — 25 April, 2010 @ 11:32 PM

  7. “I think if I had developed talent trees instead of Blizzard, I fear we’d still be stuck with simply upgrading spells like in old EQ1.”

    Would this necesarily have been a bad thing? I like talent trees/skill-based systems well enough, but nothing nowadays has the purity and simplicity of the original EQ spell system. Do you think that increased choice is always good design? Don’t games that really stand the test of time, like chess, checkers, rock/paper/scissors, limit rather than expand choice?

    My personal preference is for gameplay that uses a limited set of tactical options (like EQ’s 8 spell gems) drawn from a small set of strategic options (the spell book).

    Comment by Bhagpuss — 26 April, 2010 @ 2:01 AM

  8. Dear Uncle Brian,

    Why oh why oh why oh why… ah, hang on, wrong program.

    Who do you respect in the industry, and for what reasons?

    Comment by Melmoth — 26 April, 2010 @ 9:01 AM

  9. Bhagpuss wrote:
    Do you think that increased choice is always good design? Don’t games that really stand the test of time, like chess, checkers, rock/paper/scissors, limit rather than expand choice?

    There’s the old Einstein quote, “Make everything as simple as possible, but no simpler.” I think that is a good guideline. The problem is, as with most things related to game design, the question of “as simple as possible” is based on opinion.

    I don’t necessarily think that a game with EQ1′s system is necessarily inferior if that’s what’s appropriate to the task. As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been playing a lot of DDO and there are fewer buttons to click than a game like EQ2; most of the things I have to click – enhancements, magical jewelry, etc – were added for the online version. But, consider how Warriors worked in EQ1, all they did was beat on things and occasionally hit the “kick” button. Not exactly compelling gameplay for many people.

    Personally, I like a lot of customization on my character. The more I can fiddle with it, the happier I am. I like finding some interesting combination that makes the character more potent. I think there are a sizable number of people who agree. Even WoW, which is often derided as being “oversimplified”, has talent trees.

    Comment by Psychochild — 26 April, 2010 @ 9:03 AM

  10. Suppose a publisher came to you and offered you the job of Creative Director for a MMORPG with a budget of $40M and a three-year schedule. (And let’s stipulate that there’s an existing team, from Exec Producer to art interns, who are all solid professionals that you could work with.)

    Here’s the kicker: the game can’t include any of the following conventions: aggro management as active gameplay, buffs/debuffs on individual characters, emphasis on cooldown timers, exposed level number of mobs (e.g., a “level 23 bugbear”), stovepiped character classes, or character levels. Other than that, you’ll have the authority to imagine and implement any gameplay systems that interest you.

    Assuming you were a free agent (no personal factors), would you take that job? Why or why not?

    If the size of the project puts you off, feel free to assume it’s a smaller gig but is still well-funded enough to have high production value. The important bit is the restriction on conventional mechanics — why might a game designer choose to reject or embrace that challenge?

    Comment by Bart Stewart — 26 April, 2010 @ 9:16 AM

  11. Melmoth wrote:
    Who do you respect in the industry, and for what reasons?

    I respect a lot of people in the industry. The list of people who I don’t respect would be shorter. No, I won’t be posting that list for fear of having to work with one of those people someday.

    Let me pick four off the top of my head:

    • Jessica Mulligan – She’s one of the unsung heroes of the industry. She’s perhaps best known for her work on UO, but she was working in the industry long before that and she’s done a lot of work since then. Her latest work hasn’t been really high profile. I’ve worked with her directly and know how awesome she is in person.
    • Richard Bartle – Again, someone with persistence. He helped develop the original MUD and is still active in the industry. I’ve had the chance to meet Richard a number of times, and know he’s a cool person. His blog is arguably not game related, but I think it’s a great example of how someone with a “game designer” perspective looks at the world.
    • Brenda Brathwaite – Beyond her participation in the ultra-cool Wizardry series, her recent game Train has gotten a lot of attention. (Go watch her GDC presentation on it). Really, she didn’t do anything that anyone else couldn’t have done, she just had the vision and courage to actually do it. She’s addressed some of the issues that have been discussed: Why can’t games be art? Why do games have to be “fun”? Why can’t we do something meaningful with the medium? Why are we limited by commercial constraints?
    • Dave Toulouse – Also known as Over00. Might seem a strange addition to this list after three luminaries, but Dave has something that many people lack: persistence and dedication. He’s developed a series of games on his own (with some minor design and business consulting from me). Dave’s games (including Golemizer and the soon-to-be-released Dungeon of Loot) haven’t set the world on fire, but he’s kept at it despite not having a big success.

    As an aside, although he’s not in the industry, Melmoth’s shared blog Killed in a Smiling Accident is not to be missed.

    Bart Stewart wrote:
    …would you take that job? Why or why not?

    Are you kidding me? In a heartbeat, assuming that my financial liabilities are suitably limited. In a way, it sounds like the design of the current project I’m working on, set in a science fiction setting. Although, I’m not the Creative Director, merely a contracted Designer, so the design may not survive without alteration as the team has their input. But, this is all theoretical because dream situations like that don’t come along.

    I think that a designer might reject that type of job because it’s kind of scary to put your own vision out there. It’s always easier and more popular to try to copy the leader; after all, if the game fails it wasn’t the design… that was copied from a proven source. Putting your own design out there adds another unknown to the mix. Even if you have a wonderful design, there are so many things that can go wrong: the team doesn’t believe in the vision, the team can’t execute the vision, the market just isn’t right for that type of game, some business issue kills the project before it launches, etc. If I design a game and it flops, do you think people are going to look at all the other mitigating circumstances? Not really, they’re more likely to say that I’m a terrible designer or, if they’re gracious, that the design wasn’t good enough.

    Unfortunately, a lot of designers’ egos can’t take that. That’s one reason I’m glad Brenda Brathwaite’s game Train was so well received, because that might give people the courage to do other meaningful games. We do need to take risks in order to move the industry forward.

    Comment by Psychochild — 26 April, 2010 @ 10:04 AM

  12. What next for the Meridians? Or, more to the point, if you get to start up a new MMO project, would you revisit the Meridian lore or fire up a completely new idea?

    Comment by Tesh — 28 April, 2010 @ 9:20 AM

  13. Oh, and sorry for the double post, but that also leads into the next question, just a thought experiment: If money were no object, and you didn’t have a need to profit from your game design skills, what would you do with them? What sort of games would you make purely for the sake of making games?

    Comment by Tesh — 28 April, 2010 @ 9:21 AM

  14. Tesh wrote:
    If you get to start up a new MMO project, would you revisit the Meridian lore or fire up a completely new idea?

    At one point, I thought it’d be interesting to do a sort of “prequel” to Meridian 59. The backstory goes that there was a “Kingdom of the Nexus” that sent out exploration parties, and M59 was just the 59th meridian to be followed. I thought it’d be interesting to set the sequel in this Kingdom, with expansions being the opening of new meridians. Eventually there might be a 59th one opened…. :)

    Now, I think I’d rather do something original. Although I love M59, it does carry a lot of history that would need to be overcome. I’m also less enamored with creating PvP games these days, and I don’t think a proper M59 sequel could be done without a healthy dose of PvP.

    Tesh ALSO wrote:
    If money were no object, and you didn’t have a need to profit from your game design skills, what would you do with them? What sort of games would you make purely for the sake of making games?

    That’s an interesting question. I think I’d really like to focus on making new types of games and see how they would be accepted. For example, could you design a good permadeath game, or is it an impossibility as lots of people seem to claim. What about a game with a heavy emphasis on exploration? Could you do that with limited content, or would you have to add new content all the time to keep it interesting?

    I’d also love ot explore different game mechanics. I’ve been meaning to post a design of a different type of advancement system rather than boring old levels and xp like every game has. People seem to love original designs, but not quite enough to put them into a commercial game. :)

    Comment by Psychochild — 30 April, 2010 @ 6:27 PM

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